Where are the Models of Virtue and Sacrifice?

Could it be that the absence of moral and noble role models in the modern world leads to young adults who feel they are “owed a good life without effort”? Some sociologist will have to take up that question.

But I think it’s safe to say that our children begin looking for role models, beyond the example of their parents, as they enter the “tween years.” And the glorified images they see in the media today are less than wholesome. There are images of arrested athletes who are quickly excused so they can play in the next game. Or movie stars who perform in heroic scenes but are drunken playboys off screen.

These may be models of sin and the need for redemption, but they don’t offer images of virtue and sacrifice.

So, it is with great joy that we should celebrate the news that Pope John Paul II will be beatified in May! He is a true modern hero.

My son, Peter, started a yearlong project last fall to study this pope for a special project of his own. This project has given our entire family an opportunity to learn more about Karol Wojtyla.

Pope John Paul had a beautiful way of communicating. He would take what someone else said, or a belief held by many, and find some kernel of truth in it. Then he would move to the big Truth and the Light that needed to be understood in that situation. It was a non-confrontational way to say, “Yes there is an Absolute Truth we can point to. And Truth is not open to compromise.”

Truth is a beautiful thing to discover! Pope John Paul expressed love AND strength. He was an athlete, a poet and a man of prayer. And for me, his willingness to sacrifice and give of himself, makes him a perfect role model for our youth. As the disease of Parkinsons began to ravage his body, he refused to hide. Instead, he allowed the world to see his suffering and his great effort to persevere on behalf of Truth and worldwide healing.

As Peter researched the life of the Pope, he came across a much lesser known hero.

A Catholic Who Volunteered to Enter Auschwitz

A contact in Poland shared the story with us of Witold Pilecki. He was a young member of the Polish Army in 1939. Pilecki went into hiding after the Nazis took over his country.

Pilecki came up with a plan to assist his homeland. He wanted to make a firsthand record of the atrocities happening at Auschwitz in order to get more support from the Allies. So he allowed himself to be arrested. He was tortured for two days and then sent to Auschwitz. While in the camp he organized the prisoners and distributed the few supplies available. When the Nazis learned that he was plotting a massive escape plan, Pilecki was forced to escape with only one other prisoner. After that he assisted in the uprising in Warsaw and disrupted Nazi supply lines.

In 1945 he was recognized as a hero of World War II, the “Volunteer for Auschwitz.” But shortly afterward, he was arrested by the new communist government and tortured. He was labeled an “enemy of the state—an imperialist spy” and was shot in the back of the head. His heroic story was buried by the government and his name could not be spoken for the next forty years. It wasn’t until Pope John Paul inspired the nonviolent overthrow of communism in Poland, that the Pilecki story was uncovered in 1989.

These are stories of two Catholic men who exemplify faith, courage and sacrifice.

Journalist Michal Tyrpa has hopes that Hollywood will make a movie about Pilecki. Meanwhile he has put together a website called "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki" ("Przypomnijmy o Rotmistrzu") and has written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking that a case be opened to consider Pilecki for sainthood. For more information on that story visit www.witoldsreport.blogspot.com

Pope John Paul, pray for our families. Pray that our young people, who you cherished, will be inspired by stories of faith. Help them to rise above the temptations of the world. Help them to live with fortitude, Grace and virtue, as you did.

One Cold, Dark Night....

When our furnace died, one terribly cold night, it became an opportunity to huddle together and focus on the warmth that comes from faith, family and love…

It began at 4 p.m. when our gas furnace rocked and rattled. The serviceman confirmed what we suspected. The blower was shot. Unfortunately, the nearest supplier was an hour’s drive away and our serviceman didn’t have time to take out the old one and drive that distance to get it fixed or replaced. He advised us to bring build up a fire in the fireplace.

So, this could have been the start of a nice, change-of-pace, cozy night. Except one of our fireplaces was labeled “dangerous” the last time it was checked. And the other fireplace is in the back of the house and doesn’t send heat very far into the house.

The temperature was dropping fast. It was five degrees outside according to the thermostat but colder than that with the wind chill. Brigit, age 11, was coughing in allergic reaction to chimney smoke. I was in denial. This couldn’t be happening, or could it?

As the warmth inside the house quickly dissolved, we huddled together in one room. Under a pile of blankets we watched the old Titanic movie. Not the love story version, but the original film, showing terror, heroism and devastation. It all happened in a single night back in 1912.

It gave us the opportunity to talk about what we would do in that situation, faced with jumping into the frigid ocean. “I’d move my legs a lot and pray hard,” someone said.

We piled on blankets and pretended we were living in the earlier times when cold nights were an everyday experience. And we tried to be thankful for our blessings…for the blankets that came as Christmas presents and for movies that helped us keep our perspective about our troubles.

Especially we prayed for Jurgen, my husband. He is in seventies and has health problems. But he courageously kept the fire going in our back room fireplace so that we had one spot of warmth in the house.

When dawn finally came, it was as if our eyes were opened in a new way. Light brought a feeling of renewal and warmth. All things are possible when there is Light.

I share this story by way of saying that any time of trouble offers an opportunity to be renewed in faith. The contrast of warmth and cold, fire and ice, light and dark are important images for us. We are called to trust in Jesus when there is cold, ice and darkness.

Then the Light of the World will shine for us. And then the darkness is conquered. The warmth is re-kindled.

From our family to yours, we pray that our eyes will be opened. The Light is always there dispersing the darkness if we but turn in faith to Him.

And then “the peace which transcends all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4: 6-7) Isn’t it amazing to think that St. Paul wrote those words while he was in dark prison cell?! Clearly, he could see the Light.

Elevating the Ordinary

They were simple words and ordinary gestures. Yet, these four moments in time were transformative. It reminds me that God can take the smallest offering we might make and turn it into something miraculous.

Every action we take can either glorify God—or do the opposite. I think that’s what St. Paul meant about, “Take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)

But back to those simple moments of transformation!

The first example: I was a strayed Catholic for over 25 years. But one day my husband and I entered a Catholic Church thinking we might send our young children to Sunday School there. The choir began singing, “Come back to me with all your heart…” The words are from the prophet Hosea. It wasn’t sung by a magnificent chorus…just simple words and a simple melody. But in that moment God came and tapped on the door of my heart. He used that choir to reduce me to tears. I imagine they sang it as if it were just any old song. Certainly they knew nothing of the small miracle happening in the pews. But their efforts led to a transformation.

Example 2: Several years later, the children and I went to a communal penance service. Peter, 11, was tired and sore after an intense football practice. He didn’t want to be at church. But, as the priests processed out to go to their places after being introduced, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal made himself known to us. Fr. Robert, with small, half closed eyes, and a round smiling face, tapped Peter on the head. He chuckled and pointed to the back of church. “That’s you on the painting back there,” he said.

Peter had been my model for a banner about Jesus blessing the children. The friendly friar recognized him in the artwork, in spite of his eye impairment. When Peter went to see him for confession, the friar called Peter a “leprechaun”. He challenged Peter to spend ten minutes a day reading the Bible! It was a big request and not meant as penance but spiritual direction. Peter rose to the challenge and has been reading the Bible almost every day for four years now! It was Fr. Robert’s inner vision that guided this transformation.

Example 3: Jurgen and I could hear the children playing a game in the living room. “It’s done this way.” “No. That’s not in the rule book.” Jurgen hurried into the room to put an end to the bickering. He ordered the children to put away the game. When Brigit spoke up in disbelief, Jurgen sent her to her room.

I know. You’re thinking this doesn’t sound like a moment of Godly transformation. But that’s only the beginning of the story...

Jurgen realized he had overreacted. So, he explained to the children the importance of acting kindly toward each other and then allowed them to take the game out again. A few minutes later they were playing and laughter filled the air.

Jurgen walked out to the living room with his hands on his hips. His eyebrows were lowered. He looked furious. “There is way too much laughter out here. If you’re going to keep laughing, we’ll have to take this game away.”

When the children realized he was joking they laughed even harder. It was a moment of joy. I was the one who was transformed. I witnessed a different way of helping the children learn and grow.

Example 4: During the weekdays at church, there are few people in attendance. But our new priest still delivers short sermons. On this day, my daughter and her friend were altar servers. Father said he was going to address the sermon to them. He turned from the ambo and looked directly at them. His sermon was about performing at 100%. “Don’t just do your work to get the grade, forgetting the content of your studies. Dedicate every project to God and give it your all. Then we are glorifying God. We are thanking Him by our actions. That is what it really means to earn 100%.”

Brigit absorbed everything the priest said. She came home and created a poster about it. She brought it to church the next day after putting it in an envelope marked, “Feedback on your sermon.” Father had touched deeply.

But the rest of Father’s sermon is really what this essay is all about…

The reading of the day was on the miracle of the Loaves and the Fishes. Jesus could have fed the people with a simple blink of His eyes. Instead, He asked the disciples, “What do you have?” They brought Him everything they had access to. It wasn’t much and they surely couldn’t see how it would be useful.

Still, the followers of Jesus did their part. And God made a miracle happen. Such transforming miracles happen every day. The credit goes to God. But the simple actions of trust and goodness are our responsibility.

It’s time we paid closer attention to the command, “Take every thought captive for Christ.”

Rise Up My Soul and Give Glory to God

Now that we have two teenagers in the house, (well one is 15 and one is 11, but she acts like 16!), I read the article with interest. It was about how to reach young people to encourage deeper prayer and faith. That’s always a topic that gets my attention.

The author of the article advised that we reach our young people by joining them in the culture…to reach them through their music, their technology, their texting language, their games, etc.

Whoa! Not again! This is a frequent message delivered to modern parents. As if we don’t already have enough to do. We are supposed to keep up with whatever is new and enticing. We are told the world, and the worldly, is where our children live. But that assumes two things:
• First, it implies that all our young people fully embrace the mainstream, consumerist culture and that is all they understand. (I’m sorry, but that degrades them.)
• And second, this implies that our young people won’t listen to us if we ask them to step outside the culture. (Again, that idea is degrading to young people.)

I beg to disagree.

First, not all young people are as enamored with the bombardment of truncated language and flashing screens as some would have us believe. At our house we have one of each. Our daughter, age 11, is certainly fascinated with all technology. But she is increasingly recognizing that it mustn’t become an “idol.” And our son, age 15, has no interest in technology except as a tool to update sports statistics!

Young people can and should be made aware that technology can only play a limited role in our lives. It may seem appealing to communicate in ever faster ways, from email to networking, to twitter and texting. But “faster, faster, faster” can be simply an addiction to adrenalin! And the reduction of language to “LOL” is not only unnecessary; it degrades the essence of communication. Least we forget, the purpose of communication is about sharing and bringing about “community,” which comes from “unity”, which is a godly principle. We are one Body, in the one Lord.

Second, we as parents are responsible for the moral and spiritual health of our children. Therefore, we must challenge them to join us in an otherworldly place. Let us call them to higher realms beyond the press of “buy, buy, faster, faster.” The place of the Word and the truth about Jesus is deeply meaningful. And meaning is what we all long for.

Of course, I admit that I went on a long detour into worldly ways as a young adult. But the foundation I received in childhood always called me back. It beckoned to me until I remembered and paid attention.

As a child, my mother insisted we say the rosary every night on our knees. Mom insisted we should do regular volunteer work to recognize our role in helping others. We were “deprived” of every new thing that came along, but we had instead, a powerful sense of family as a result of these things.

I remember vividly, the time we were in the car, driving to the hospital. My brother had an infected hand and the doctor said surgery was required. Mom led us in prayer the whole way there. And, miraculously, by the time we arrived, the redness was fading and no surgery was required.

That image, of prayer and family, is far more powerful than any image of the current cultural fads. I have no memory of the things we didn’t have that other kids had.

My husband Jurgen likes to remind us often that we are called to “Capture every straying thought and turn it toward God.”(based on 2 Cor. 10:5)

It’s easy for all of us, both teens and adults, to let our minds drift into images and thoughts based on the world of “stuff” that clutters our lives. But it is possible to take control of our minds and hearts.

And when we do that, as parents, we can challenge our children…Let’s ask them to Rise Up. Give Glory to God. And then go forth as disciples. (And communicate with our voices, using sentences and body language to bring about true community!)

That’s the parenting I grew up with. And that’s the advice I want to live by.